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San Jose State’s guards give Eagles pause

Eastern Washington University’s injury-plagued men’s basketball team opens its 2010-11 season tonight at Reese Court against San Jose State.

Tipoff, in the first game of a men’s-women’s doubleheader, is set for 5:35. The Eagles, who are not only short-handed in the backcourt, but short as well, face some difficult matchup problems on the perimeter.

SJSU, which finished 14-17 overall and 6-10 in the Western Athletic Conference last winter, returns a pair of tall, talented and battle-tested guards in seniors Adrian Oliver and Justin Graham, who both stand 6-foot-4.

“Those are two big guards who can both post up anywhere from 12 to 14 feet out and then back a defender down,” said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine, whose Eagles return only four players from last year team that finished 9-21 and 5-11 in the Big Sky Conference. “So, naturally, with the small guards we have, that’s a big concern.”

Oliver finished fourth nationally in scoring last year with an average of 22.5 points per game, while Graham averaged 9.4 points. Coach George Nessman’s experienced backcourt duo will be operating against an EWU team that is coming a pair of exhibition losses to NCAA Division II opponents and still without the services of sophomore point guard Glen Dean, who is expected to be sidelined at least a couple of more weeks with a stress fracture in his foot.

Earlywine said first-year JC transfer Cliff Colimon, the Eagles’ only other point guard on scholarship, is “extremely doubtful” for tonight’s game after spraining an ankle on Sunday.

That leaves only 5-11 sophomore Kevin Winford and 5-10 sophomore Jeffrey Forbes available to deal with Oliver and Graham – although 6-5 freshman wing Geoffrey Allen, the son of former UCLA and NBA star Lucius Allen, has been cleared to play after suffering an early-season hand injury.

Initially, Allen was thought to have broken a bone in his shooting hand, but once the swelling subsided it was learned that the hand was just severely bruised.

“I expect him to get on the floor,” Earlywine said of Allen, who had established himself as one of the Eagles’ most consistent outside shooters prior to getting hurt. “But he hadn’t shot a basketball again until Wednesday, so it remains to be seen how effective he’ll be.”

Eastern’s women’s team will face Cal State Fullerton in the second game of tonight’s Reese Court doubleheader, with tipoff expected to take place at approximately 7:30.

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